Statesman Media (Studio Sessions) was a finalist for the Mega-Innovation Award presented Tuesday afternoon at the Key Executives Mega-Conference.
Austin, Texas, calls itself the "Live Music Capital of the World," and Statesman Media capitalizes on music to make money with Austin360 Studio Sessions.
Studio Sessions is a live-stream half-hour music show produced in the Statesman Media studio used by both the American-Statesman newsroom and the company's advertising and production agency. It mainly showcases local music but also features up-and-coming regional bands, bands passing through town and the occasional national act.
The show is part of the GateHouse-owned company's commitment to developing a third revenue stream beyond print and digital, said Scott Pompe, vice president of advertising. The third stream includes podcasts, online streaming radio, experiential marketing, events, and creative and media agency services, according to its entry form.
"Most traditional media has now gotten to the point where they realize that digital alone is not a strategy. The digital revenue alone is not going to make up for the print losses," Pompe said.
Studio Sessions is sponsored by a Bud Light distributor in Austin and brings in well over six figures annually, Pompe said. Staffers from the agency and the newsroom handle the production, and the musicians perform without pay to promote themselves.
The numbers are impressive. In 2018, Studio Sessions recorded 479,069 views, 10,690 likes, and shares and comments reaching 968,926 people. On Facebook, episodes average 29,000 views and 668 likes, shares and comments. Previously recorded videos can be found at www.austin360.com/studiosessions, on the Facebook page Studio Sessions – Austin 360 and on YouTube.
Live sessions usually take place in the middle of the day, Pompe said, because people seem to be more active online at that time. The session is also live on Facebook, and people can write in questions that may be asked by the host during interview sections of the show.
The studio can hold a live audience of about 30. The sponsor gets some of the seats, the artist or band gets some and sometimes there are drawings among readers and digital subscribers for seats. The musicians also can place the recording of the show on their own websites.
Pompe said more bands are asking to be on the show as its popularity grows. Past guests have included KT Tunstall, Joy Williams, Alesia Lani, Coast Modern and Koe Wetzel. Through its connections with concerts marketed by Circuit of the Americas Formula One racing venues, Studio Sessions may feature more A-list acts this year, Pompe said. "But we're never going to go away from our core of up-and-comers."
Studio Sessions launched in 2016 after a major renovation of the Statesman's studio. Pompe said the equipment investment of about $500,000 was one of the keys to the success of the concert series because of the high quality of sound and video that can be produced for both the concerts and the agency clients.
"Frankly what I think we've accomplished here in Austin is we're doing it better than a lot of the radio stations are doing their things," Pompe said.
Other important factors were landing a sponsor that has stuck with the show and a general company mindset of collaboration among news and marketing staffs. American-Statesman music reporters sometimes meet the bands to conduct interviews before or after the shows, and news photographers make up some of the studio staff, he said.
"We really do collaborate and work together and try to help each other out." Pompe said.
The next step is the launch of a digital radio station, which Pompe said is set for April. The Statesman already does a number of podcasts that could also appear on the station along with both live and previously recorded versions of Studio Sessions.
But Pompe said it's not necessary for every newspaper to have a state-of-the-art studio at its disposal to generate new revenue, although that certainly helps. Nor does local music necessarily need to be the focus; one idea being discussed in Austin is the addition of comedy sessions.
A podcast studio may be enough for some live events, or a newspaper could partner with a local radio station that has facilities for live music, Pompe suggested. But he said getting sponsors ahead of time is the key to making such ventures profitable.
"I definitely think there's ways to do it," he said. "But it takes a certain kind of knowledge from leadership in sales, because selling a sponsorship to a studio session is not like selling a print or digital session to a client."
For more information, contact Scott Pompe, vice president of advertising, at email@example.com.
The Mega-Innovation Award is sponsored annually by the Inland Press Association, Local Media Association, News Media Alliance and the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association.
Jane Nicholes, a regular contributor to the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association's eBulletin, is a freelance writer and editor based in coastal Alabama. She is an award-winning veteran of more than 30 years in the newspaper business. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.